Newcastle striker Ayoze Perez was “incredibly proud” to be compared to his hero Lionel Messi following his impressive match-winning display against Everton.
The Spaniard proved to be critical for Newcastle last weekend as they came from two goals down to grab a spectacular 3-2 victory over Everton at St James’ Park.
Perez first set-up Salomon Rondon’s superb volley to put Newcastle back into the game after the break, before equalising in the 81st-minute when Everton keeper Jordan Pickford dropped Miguel Almiron’s effort into his path.
Then Perez took advantage of another Everton defensive error to fire the ball past Pickford and hand Newcastle an unlikely win.
Magpies boss Rafael Benitez would later describe Perez’s pass for Rondon’s opener as something in a similar class to Messi.
“My first reaction was ‘Is he talking about me?'” Perez told the Daily Star. “I was very surprised but incredibly proud.
“Messi is my all-time hero, head and shoulders above every footballer in the world.
“So to be mentioned in the same sentence by someone I respect so much was special.
“It also told me I must be doing something right as well.”
He added: “It meant an awful lot. It was an amazing day, one I will never forget.
“Sometimes in bed on the morning of a game, you start imagining what you would love to happen. It rarely works out that way but this time, what I wished for actually happened.”
The 25-year-old turned down interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona in the summer of 2014 to complete a €3m transfer to Newcastle from Tenerife.
And now Perez is confident he’s playing the best football of his career on the back of scoring six goals in 28 Premier League games this season.
“It is not simple to find that moment when you are positive, confident and feel so good about everything in your game but that is me now,” he said.
“I wake up looking forward to training and counting down until the next game.”